Soft Systems Methodology (SSM)

Understanding Very Complex Issues

Explore different "worldviews".

© iStockphoto/Kronick

The real world is usually complex and messy.

Many different factors may contribute to an issue, and there may be many different perspectives to consider while resolving it.

This means that it's often difficult to understand the real problem or find the root cause.

With so much confusion often surrounding problems, determining an appropriate solution can sometimes seem almost impossible.

To deal with issues like these, you need a problem-solving approach that first lets you clearly see what's happening – and then helps you think about how the situation could be improved.

Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) is just such an approach.

How SSM Was Developed

Soft Systems Methodology grew out of general systems theory, which views everything in the world as part of an open, dynamic, and interconnected system. The various parts of this system interact with one another, often in a nonlinear way, to produce a result.

According to general systems theory, organizations consist of complex, dynamic, goal-oriented processes – and all of these work together, in a coordinated way, to produce a particular result. For example, if a company's strategy is to maximize profits by bringing new products to market quickly, then the systems within the company must all work together to achieve this goal.

When something goes wrong within the system, or any of its subsystems, you must analyze the individual parts to discover a solution. In hard sciences, you can do this in a very controlled, analytical way. However, when you add human or "soft" elements – like social interaction, corporate politics, and individual perspectives – it's a much more difficult process.

That's why Peter Checkland, a management scientist and systems professor, applied the science of systems to the process of solving messy and confusing management problems. The result was Soft Systems Methodology – a way to explore complex situations with different stakeholders; numerous goals; different viewpoints and assumptions; and complicated interactions and relationships.

SSM helps you compare...

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